Above is a portrait of Beethoven, painted in 1823 by Waldmüller, the year when Beethoven and Liszt met. Fifty-two years later, when in his sixties in 1875, Liszt gave the following spoken account of the meeting to his pupil Ilka Horowitz-Barnay. This version is from Paul Nettl’s Beethoven Encyclopedia.
‘I was about eleven years of age when my venerated teacher Czerny took me to Beethoven. He had told the latter about me a long time before, and had begged him to listen to me play some time. Yet Beethoven had such a repugnance to infant prodigies that he had always violently objected to receiving me. Finally, however, he allowed himself to be persuaded by the indefatigable Czerny, and in the end cried impatiently, “In God’s name, then, bring me the young Turk!” It was ten o’clock in the morning when we entered the two small rooms in the Schwarzspanierhaus [Liszt made a mistake in the address, since in April 1823 Beethoven was living at Oberepfarrgasse 60, Kothgasse] which Beethoven occupied; I somewhat shyly, Czerny amiably encouraging me. Beethoven was working at a long, narrow table by the window. He looked gloomily at us for a time, said a few brief words to Czerny and remained silent when my kind teacher beckoned me to the piano. I first played a short piece by Ries. When I had finished Beethoven asked me whether I could play a Bach fugue. I chose the C minor Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier. “And could you also transpose the Fugue at once into another key?” Beethoven asked me.
Fortunately I was able to do so. After my closing chord I glanced up. The great Master’s darkly glowing gaze lay piercingly upon me. Yet suddenly a gentle smile passed over the gloomy features, and Beethoven came quite close to me, stooped down, put his hand on my head, and stroked my hair several times.” A devil of a fellow,” he whispered, “a regular young Turk!” Suddenly I felt quite brave. “May I play something of yours now?” I boldly asked. Beethoven smiled and nodded. I played the first movement of the C major Concerto. When I had concluded Beethoven caught hold of me with both hands, kissed me on the forehead and said gently. “Go! You are one of the fortunate ones! For you will give joy and happiness to many other people! There is nothing better or finer!” ‘
Liszt told the preceding in a tone of deepest emotion, with tears in his eyes, and a warm note of happiness sounded in the simple tale. For a brief space he was silent and then said. ‘This event in my life has remained my greatest pride – the palladium of my whole career as an artist. I tell it but very seldom and – only to good friends!’
To me, this has the ring of truth; over half a century had passed between the event and Liszt’s description of it; a factual error re an address is understandable. Some scholars question whether a ‘conversation’ with the deaf Beethoven was possible. In common with many who have a hearing loss, perhaps Beethoven’s nodding, smiling and comments occured in spite of not hearing what the little boy said; or perhaps they were tricks of Liszt’s memory. But whether or not all the facts are precise, the meeting had a profound effect on Liszt, who subsequently became a huge champion of Beethoven’s music.
Incidentally, Beethoven’s conversation book verifying the encounter, which I described in the previous post , was doctored by Schindler (pictured, right) after the event. The comment ‘The little fellow’s free improvisations cannot yet, strictly speaking, be interpreted as such … ( ie do not amount to much) and ‘It is unfortunate that the lad is in Czerny’s hands’ were added later by Schindler, who didn’t like Czerny – or Liszt.
Below is the Kleiner Redoutensaal of the Hofburg palace in Vienna, where Liszt performed on April 13 1823, having met Beethoven a few days before. The first volume of Alan Walker’s wonderful three volume study of Liszt (p80) contains the programme, which he tells us is on a handbill in the Vienna Historisches Museum. Liszt performed Hummel’s Third Piano Concerto Op 89 of 1819 with orchestra, Grandes Variations for piano and orchestra by Moscheles, and the orchestra hired in for the occasion, conducted by Herr Hildebrand, performed the first movement of a Mozart symphony. A vocal quartet from the Imperial Vienna Opera House sang a quartet by Conradin Kreutzer, and a Madame Schütz performed an aria by Rossini.
The final item on the original handbill announces: ‘A Free Fantasy on the pianoforte from the concert-giver, on a written theme most humbly requested from Someone in the audience.’ Liszt duly improvised on a theme provided by Someone – but the Someone was not Beethoven. He wasn’t there – and he had not provided Liszt with a theme.
It’s a cleverly constructed programme, featuring the music of the most popular living composers of the day, although the attempt to involve the greatest of them, Beethoven, did not suceed. The music of each of the featured composers subsequently wove threads in Liszt’s musical life; he later transcribed works by Mozart for solo piano as well as Hummel’s Wind Septet and works by Rossini.
Beethoven and Liszt both appeared as composers in print in Vaterländischer Künstlerverein at the same period.
In 1819, Anton Diabelli sent a waltz theme to a number of composers, asking them to write a variation on it. Beethoven wrote an entire set of thirty-three variations, published in June 1823 as Volume 1, soon after Liszt’s April concert. Among the 50 composers who wrote just one variation, included in Volume 2 of the Vaterländischer Künstlerverein, were Kreutzer, Moscheles, Hummel – and Liszt, recommended for inclusion by his teacher Czerny, who composed one of the fifty variations as well as a coda. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, also contributed a variation.
Curiosity prompted me to dig deeper. Apart from Mozart, who died in 1791, who were all the contemporary composers whose music featured in Liszt’s concert, and what, if any, were their links with Beethoven? And who were the other performers? What else was happening at that time?
Moscheles idolised Beethoven , and was entrusted with preparing the piano score of Fidelio for publication. He conducted the first performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in London. Hummel and Beethoven were contemporaries as young students in Vienna. Rossini’s operas were highly popular in Vienna and the two composers met in 1822. The quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, Volume 5 of 1823, reporting about music in Vienna in December 1822, writes ‘A new German Opera, Libussa, a composition by Conrad Kreutzer, has been performed with complete success. Every repetition has increased its fame’; and there is a also a flattering review of an earlier concert given by Liszt, held on the first of that month. It goes on to say, ‘Beethoven has just finished two [??] grand masses, and is employed upon a symphony.’ (So that’s the Missa Solemnis and the 9th Symphony.) And in January 1823 : ‘Mad[ame] Schutz …’ (Aha! Here she is!)… took the prinicipal character in Kreutzer’s Libussa … (amazing!) …. but failed.’ Oh dear.
Of Herr Hildebrand who conducted I can find no trace.
The publication does not mention Liszt’s concert on April 23 1823, but does report on performances of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia on the 6th April and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on the 14th. Musically speaking, it was quite a month in Vienna.